An utterly riveting cable TV show called the "Love Crimes of Kabul" follows the stories of Afghan women who have been imprisoned for breaking strict Sharia law governing sex outside of marriage. Their crimes would be hardly recognizable in the United States: adultery, fornication, prostitution and lewd behavior have become pretty much the norm here.
In one fascinating episode, a young woman has become pregnant while unmarried. Her parents turn her in to the authorities in disgrace. Her father laments that each time he goes out in public he shields his face out of shame. The neighborhood gossip is unbearable, cries the mother. Her lover is also charged and awaits trial in a neighboring jail.
As the episode develops, the parents attempt to negotiate a quick wedding. If they get married before the trial, perhaps the judge will be more lenient – prison sentences for moral crimes range from 2-15 years in Afghanistan. The situation presents a hardship for both families. The young man comes from a poor family and has no job or dowry to offer. The young woman's family laments that if she does not get married she faces the prospect of raising her child in prison -- and when she gets out she would have no viable options for marriage (in Afghanistan, virginity is a prized asset). After a series of negotiations conducted by the young man's uncle, the handcuffed couple gets married in family court just before they are set to face trial.
The judge hears the case. He reviews the evidence – including a confession by the young woman, a medical test confirming her pregnancy, and eyewitness accounts from a neighbor who caught them in the act. He concludes that they are guilty. However, he notes, the strength of the family unit is a fundamental value in Islam. He considers the fact that they are now married, and urges them to return home to raise their family in earnest. He sentences them to time served. The newlyweds are elated. The families are happy because their honor has been restored.
Let's pan to America circa 2011. A young unmarried woman has a child out of wedlock. Nothing happens. The father abandons her and the baby girl. He is not held accountable. The young lady is poor, has trouble raising the child alone, and therefore neglects her. The toddler goes missing. A massive search ensues. The young woman goes out and parties like a rock star. Eventually the toddler's decaying corpse is found in the woods with duct tape covering her mouth, discarded like a piece of trash. A media circus ensues. The woman is charged with murder. It gets even more sordid. Her winning defense is that she lied about the 'accidental' death of her child because of the trauma of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her own father. She is acquitted by a jury of her peers.
Which outcome would you rather have? A dead child or a strong young family supported by the community? It amazes me every time people go on about the backwardness of Islamic culture – calling it homophobic, chauvinistic, and draconian. Those criticisms have some merit. But what does it say about our own society when we cannot even protect a young woman and child from such a horrific ordeal? What does it say about our moral values that no one really cares anymore about honor?
People naturally chafe under rules and customs that limit their choices. We all want immediate gratification. But moral wisdom teaches us restraint. The essential choices we call virtues were distilled over centuries of trial and error – from the time when homo-sapiens were not even aware of the biological processes of reproduction, through the Roman times when polygamy was the norm. Homosexuality was ultimately shunned because of its effects upon the social structure, when, in ancient Greece men's passion for boys became a distraction that weakened the state from within. It is interesting to note that among meditations of the Roman ruler and philosopher Marcus Aurelius is a passage praising his father for overcoming his love of boys.
Most societies recognize adherence to virtues is a social good – just like marriage, education, clean air and water. It is a plentiful necessity that we never miss until it is gone. In America, morality has been so weakened that even our leaders can't take a stand anymore. President Obama got roundly shunned by the black leadership when he gave a father's day speech urging the fathers to take care of their children. Jesse Jackson, a black Reverend who has lost his credibility because of his own out-of-wedlock child, could only utter epithets under his breath. Catholic Priests and even the Pope are finding their moral authority weakened because of the skeletons of sexual abuse in their own closet.
The media is partially to blame for this. Rupert Murdoch's English tabloid shamelessly hacked into the private emails and phone messages of crime victims. As long they were selling papers, they could care less about how many lives they tore apart in the process. As we watched this spectacle we were all disgusted; and naturally so. But why are we not disgusted by a television program that actually calls itself 'American idol?' Why is idolatry celebrated in the public realm, while God is shunned?
I fear for this country in these times. I fear that as we lose our moral compass we will be set adrift upon a sea of relativism with no direction, no purpose and no destination. When that happens we might as well pack up and move to Afghanistan or some other place where at least they have moral standards. While their customs may be strange and their laws may be draconian, at least they have retained some sense of honor.